The 82 game NBA regular season ended last Wednesday, and with a couple of days to prepare, the Playoffs got underway this past Saturday and Sunday.
Golden State set the record for most wins in a season (73) with its 21-point home win over Memphis. While setting a new record is impressive it will mean very little to the organization if the goal of a second straight NBA Title is not achieved.
San Antonio ended with 67 regular season wins; their 67-15 record, though overshadowed by Golden State’s accomplishment, still ranks as one of the best all time regular season marks.
The Warriors and Spurs have been clearly the top two teams – both in the Western Conference and in the NBA overall – since the season began at the end of last October.
Backing up that statement one need look no further than the 12 game drop off from the Spurs’ 67 wins to third seeded Oklahoma City. The Thunder’s 55 wins were two more than the fourth seeded LA Clippers. There was another large gap – 11 games – to fifth seeded Portland. The Trailblazers won 44, just three games more than eighth seeded Houston, which made the Playoffs with just a .500 record, 41-41.
The situation in the East was dramatically different. Cleveland earned the top seed with 57 wins – a mark that would have them barely seeded third in the West. Toronto finished with 56 to earn the second seed. There was an eight game gap to the group of four teams that finished with identical 48-34 records.
Tie breakers gave Miami and Atlanta the third and fourth seeds and the home court advantage for the opening series against the fifth and sixth seeds, Boston and Charlotte. Indiana and Detroit round out the Eastern Conference field with eighth seeded Detroit going 44-38 to earn that conference’s final seed with three more wins than the corresponding eighth seed in the West, Houston.
Starting the week, the home team won seven of the first eight games and the pointspread mattered just twice – in Atlanta’s 1-point win over Boston on Saturday and Cleveland’s 5-point win over Detroit on Sunday. The other six were blowouts with Golden State winning by 26 over a hapless looking Houston and Oklahoma City torching Dallas by 38. Indiana’s win at Toronto on Saturday was the lone upset of the opening weekend in terms of favored teams losing outright.
On Sunday Cleveland rallied to defeat Detroit in the day’s first game but the next three games were each decided by 20 points or more. Both Miami and San Antonio won by 32, defeating Charlotte and Memphis respectively. Sunday’s nightcap saw the Clippers defeat Portland by 20.
After all four games on Saturday stayed UNDER the Total the Sunday games were evenly split with the first two going OVER and the final two staying UNDER.
Playoff games are generally lower scoring than regular season games and the start to this postseason followed that pattern. An average of 205.4 points per game were scored during the regular season whereas the first eight playoff games produced an average of 195.5.
Here’s a look at each of the matchups with each team’s seed within its Conference in parentheses.
Cleveland (1) vs. Detroit (8): Cleveland is again favored by 10.5 over the Pistons in Wednesday’s Game 2 and the Pistons remain viable for taking the points. Cleveland likely wins this series in five or at most six games but the Pistons should continue to cover. Their best chance for an outright win, almost certainly as an Underdog, would be Game 3 if they are trailing 0-2. Cleveland’s best situation for covering as a favorite would be following a straight up loss or if in position to complete a four game sweep.
Toronto (2) vs. Indiana (7): If the series heads to Indiana tied 1-1 the Raptors will just need to split the next two games to retake home court advantage. If so the Raptors become playable in Game 3 to retake the series lead. Should the Pacers win Game 3 that momentum might carry over to Game 4, and if the Pacers are made the Underdog they would be playable in that game. Unless the Pacers take a 3-1 lead in the series headed back to Toronto, the call would be for the Raptors to advance in six games, although the Pacers should end up cashing more tickets than the Raptors by series end.
Miami (3) vs. Charlotte (6): Miami’s edge in both player and coaching experience versus that of Charlotte is huge, which showed in Miami’s 123-91 Game 1 win. That win came after the teams had split their four regular season meetings with each winning once at home and once on the road with the points not coming into play ATS. Charlotte is a team on the rise and they should avoid being swept with a win in one of their two home games. But Miami should need no more than five games to advance.
Atlanta (4) vs. Boston (5): The key event that took place in the opening game of this series was the hamstring injury to Boston’s Avery Bradley that is expected to have him miss the balance of this series. That is a huge loss for the Celtics and makes it very difficult to project this well coached but overachieving team to win the series. Despite the Bradley injury Boston should be able to extend the series but the most likely scenario has Atlanta winning in six games.
Golden St. (1) vs. Houston (8): The absence of Curry could cause hesitation in laying too many points with Golden State but taking close to double digits with the Rockets at home in Games 3 and 4 could be worth considering. The Warriors will take no chances risking further injury to Curry and the team has shown a tendency to relax in the fourth quarter when having established comfortable leads.
San Antonio (2) vs. Memphis (7): The Spurs were priced as the heaviest favorite to win its opening series and the lack of depth on the Grizzlies suggests this will be a four game sweep. Even at full strength the matchups worked against Memphis. Still, laying double digits on the road with the Spurs is dangerous and thus making a play on Memphis as a double digit home underdog in Games 3 and 4 would be an option to consider.
Oklahoma City (3) vs. Dallas (6): The combination of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook gives OKC a chance to upset the Spurs and spoil the plans for the expected Conference Finals showdown. Dallas is the better coached team but the talent edge enjoyed by the Thunder suggests this series lasts no more than five games with Dallas’ best chance of pulling an upset back home in Game 3.
LA Clippers (4) vs. Portland (5): This is the most likely series in the West to go the full seven games and it would not be a surprise if the Blazers win at home in both Games 3 and 4. The forecast is for the Clippers to win the series but should the series go six games Portland getting at least 4 points in Game 6 is worth considering.
Look for form to hold in the West with Golden State facing San Antonio. In the East the call is for Cleveland to face Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The widespread consensus of opinion has a rematch of last season’s Finals with Golden State facing Cleveland. But do not be surprised if Miami gets by the Cavs in the East and if San Antonio does the unthinkable and gets by the Warriors in the West. The addition of LaMarcus Aldridge to team with Kawhi Leonard gives the Spurs their tandem of the future as their aging veterans near retirement. San Antonio is a deep team that in recent seasons has put little emphasis on the regular season, saving its collective energy for the Playoffs.
If the Spurs do pull the upset of Golden State look for them to win the NBA Title over Miami or Cleveland or any other Eastern challenger.
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to GamingToday readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Email: [email protected]